Review: The Next 100 Years–A Forecast for the 21st Century

2 Star, Future

100 YearsGlib, Unprofessional, Splintered, Not Even Good Fantasy, May 30, 2009

George Friedman

I actually bought this book anticipating a very positive review (see my review of the author’s original first-rate book:
The Future of War: Power, Technology and American World Dominance in the Twenty-first Century I did that after berating him over an idiotic STRATFOR comment on torture and rendition being “understandable,” something better understood by searching for the Op Ed by someone else on “The Banality of Evil.”

This book is a tragic mess. I actually wonder if the author wrote it, or if this is staff work and part of marketing for STRATFOR, which despite its mixed track record and lack of sourcing or analytic coherence, appears to be a success as an online opinion feed and rapid response “go fer” service.

There are no other books mentioned in this long essay; no notes; no index, no nothing–just one long essay that is completely lacking in any kind of strategic analytic framework.

Here are some of my flyleaf notes:

China not expanding into Siberia? This is completely at odds with the reality that China has a massive and aggressive program to move immigrants into Siberia at the same time that Russian occupation of the southeastern region of Russia is dropping.

Mexico defeated? Although later in the book the author provides a graphic that shows Hispanics largely dominating back up to the Hidalgo-Guadalupe line that pioneers of Spanish heritage developed in the first place, he reeks of the conventional wisdom that Mexico was “defeated” by the USA rather than attacked and pushed out. As a friend of mine related, when he asked his grandfather when the family immigrated, the answer was: “we didn’t–they moved the border on us.”

America Centric. This book–whoever wrote it–is so out of touch with global realities and so blindly America-centric that I really have to wonder if this is a serious offering. While it was no doubt written in pieces over time, probably beginning in 2007, it reflects ZERO insights or after-the-fact acknowledgement of all that has happened since Business Week ran the cover story in October 2007 on the coming recession, or the very obvious fact that the eight demographic actors (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Wild Cards such as Congo, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey) will define the future, not the USA, which has lost its integrity and its intelligence (I will respond to comments on this point, see the seven books I have sponsored).

Humanity. There is none in this book. The author appears to be primarily a techno-state geek and still thinks in terms of trends at the macro-organizational and macro-technology level. I have a note, “No humanity in this book.” There is ZERO understanding of political-legal, socio-economic, ideo-cultural, or even techno-demographic and natural-geographic. While the author(s) have a stab as geographic erudicity, it is pathetic. Robert Kaplan does it better in “The Revenge of Geography,” from which I extract the following righteously intelligent observation by Kaplan:

BEGIN KAPLAN. These deepening connections are transforming the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian and Pacific oceans into a vast continuum, in which the narrow and vulnerable Strait of Malacca will be the Fulda Gap of the 21st century. The fates of the Islamic Middle East and Islamic Indonesia are therefore becoming inextricable. But it is the geographic connections, not religious ones, that matter most. END KAPLAN.

That one sentence is better than this entire book.

There are a few small elements of the book that were worthy of noting.

1. The author is convinced that Poland will invade Russia from the west while Japan invades Russia from the east. I take the first seriously and the second–as someone who spent a third of their life in Asia–with shocked amusement.

2. The author believes there will be a Russian-Turkish war over Central Asia. I find this worthy of future alertness and reflection.

3. The author believes that Russia’s being “landlocked” in the east (the part that I have suggested the Alaska Independence Movement and Christian Exodus both seek permission to develop as part of the Russian strategy to slow the calculated Chinese creep north and northeast), and I have a note to myself: Vladivostok? Global warming? NW Passage?

4. Five cycles of the West. The book identifies five cycles, from founders to pioneers, pioneers to small town America, small town to industrial, and industrial-suburban to migrant class, and I just shake my head. I know some, but not all, of the rest of the world, and this is so grossly generic and US-specific as to make me cringe.

5. China is Japan on steroids. Wow. Can anyone be this ignorant of cultural and historical reality? Even if intended as a throw-away line on industrial prowess, this thought is so ill-conceived as to be frightening in its ignorance. Incidentally, China did not sign the post war treaty and they still have a right to claim reparations from both Japan and the USA (see Gold Warriors by the Sterlings).

6. Space, the final frontier. The book stresses space in a techno-geek sort of way, and I pretty much give up on the book at this point. There is nothing in here about RapidSMS, cell phone and renewable energy lighting up the Southern Hemisphere, etcetera.

The author(s) have been very lazy in this book, to the point that I wonder if organizational un-intelligence has blinded them to their own arrogance in thinking that such an essay, absent both an analytic framework and respect for the vast non-fiction literature covering every aspect of all that this book ignores, would be well received. Evidently they are right, the book ranks well, but that may say more about the marketing than the book. I am sure the author(s) would be delighted to be as wealthy as Bill Gates, using first-rate marketing to sell second-rate thinking.

For one analytic framework that is properly holistic in thinking about both the next 100 years and what we as a collective can do about it, visit Earth Intelligence Network (501c3 Public Charity).

I list nine better books below (and include the author’s first book above as a much better book):
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
FOOTSTEPS INTO THE FUTURE (Preferred Worlds for the 1990’s)
The Road to 2015: Profiles of the Future
The Nine Nations of North America
Next Global Stage: The: Challenges and Opportunities in Our Borderless World
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
The Future of Life
Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming

There are so many others, but Amazon limits me to ten links and the books above are drawn from my futures shelf, one of 85 categories in which I read.